Once upon a time, I started a movie blog. The twist of the story is that what I created was not this Chwineka Watches, but a different, earlier blog whose name escapes me at the moment (probably also Chwineka Watches). The reviews were more longform, with posts being around 4000 words and featured several screenshots that had quirky captions because I was obviously inspired by Cracked Dot Com. One of the movies I reviewed at the time was Otto; or, Up with Dead People, a film about a gay zombie, something I’m redoing here as part of Pride Month. Looking back years later on that early review is weird to me now, because I can see how my opinions and thought processes have changed over time. Lemme explain.
So Otto; or, Up with Dead People is largely about Otto, a gay zombie in the modern day. He smells dead, has white eyes (contacts, but still), and shambles when walking. The twist is that he’s the only zombie out there and everyone believes he’s just weird or mentally ill. “He’s homeless, delusional, and possibly schizophrenic,” a character named Fritz opines after meeting Otto for the first time. And yeah, that’s clearly the truth in the movie, but there was a part of me that wanted him to be an actual zombie. That would mean that the way he perceives the world is not due to chemical imbalances in the brain but just how zombies see our hectic lives. But no, after getting staticky flashbacks to his life before, Otto eventually meets up with his ex, Rudolf, and the conversation turns to Otto’s time in the “looney bin.” Is this a severe case of Cotard’s syndrome? Unclear, but the realization that he’s not one of the undead comes right before Otto gets gay and/or zombie bashed by some street kids. He meets up with Fritz and the two share a fairly touching sex scene–I’ll get to the movie’s pornographic nature in a minute–and Otto’s white contacts and pale skin disappear between scenes. Has he found love and a possible fix for his brain? No. He leaves Fritz a drawing of a tombstone with the name “Otto” on it and goes back to believing he’s a zombie. He doesn’t die, but he’s not really living, either. This is not a happy ending.
I said the film was “largely” about Otto because almost half of it is dedicated to a filmmaker named Medea Yarn, who is making a gay zombie pornographic art film. It’s honestly the weakest part of the film and in my old review, I absolutely hated her. I hated how her film was a flimsy justification for having sex scenes, I hated that her girlfriend lives in a silent film–I mean that literally, every appearance of her is in black and white with old timey piano music–and I hated her preachy monologues. But now, while I still find her to be a character the movie focuses on too much, her rants against capitalism absolutely resonate with me. Complaining about how garbage dumps are “the great mass graveyards of advanced capitalism,” she talks comments: “Plastics with irreversibly linked molecules effortlessly achieving the kind of immortality that man can only dream of.” That’s… actually really poetic. And true! Plastics are a serious problem to the environment, but our current economic system prioritizes short term gains over… well, anything else, so 8 million tons of plastic in the ocean each year is somebody else’s problem. Her film is still an excuse to show men fucking, but it’s about gay zombies staging a revolution against the heteronormative system that oppresses them. The zombie part just happens to coincide with her meeting Otto and making a separate film about him.
We all change with time, but reading my old review shows how I’ve personally changed. I talked about this movie mostly at face value, not really delving into the fact that Otto is a homeless, mentally ill, gay youth and how society shunning him as a zombie is similar to how it can treat gay and mentally ill people. Otto had a boyfriend and an apparently loving family, but untreated mental problems ruined his life and set him apart from them. Not to go too deeply into my own struggles with mental illness, but a loving support network absolutely is wonderful and a great help, but it’s not a cure. Maybe I’m looking too deeply into a film that has a zombie orgy in the third act, but writer/director Mr. Bruce LaBruce associates with the queercore movement, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he had one character expose his views against capitalism while another was about how the gay and mentally ill are treated, albeit more subtly.
Also, moving away from queer politics, the movie mentions “the Cannibal of Rotenberg,” a reference I picked up because my life is forever tainted from watching films like Diary of a Cannibal and Feed. I notice when a film even makes a passing mention of Armin Meiwes and his eating of another man. I am forever burdened by this knowledge that isn’t usually appropriate to bring up in casual conversation, so I gotta let it out here.
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